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The chicken that stole the show

Amelia’s lives up to the hype

Amelia’s at 122 N. Boston Ave.

Michelle Pollard

Tulsa’s restaurant scene has a quality control problem. Especially downtown, local patrons and food writers tend to overpraise new establishments that are often fine but unexceptional, while ignoring symptoms of trouble, such as bad service resulting from undertrained staff, miscalculated steak temps, overseasoning, and poorly mixed cocktails—to say nothing of overpriced menus. Over and over, a “fine dining” restaurant will open to deafening hype before dying a slow, unceremonious death as patrons grow wearied by disappointment and weekend headcounts decline. I know, I’ve worked at many of them.

The hype, too, for Amelia’s has been loud. Opened in April in the Brady Arts district, it is, on first glance, worthy of suspicion, starting with its location—a shotgun space I cannot dissociate from its previous occupant, a strong contender for worst bar in Tulsa—and its emphasis on “wood fired cuisine,” one of those broad promises that suggests smoke and mirrors, like “flame-broiled” and “fresh-made” and “farm-to-table.”

But everything about Amelia’s is immaculate. From the elegant, unfussy décor to the professional staff—many of them recognizable veterans of Tulsa’s best restaurants—here is a restaurant that appears to be, only months into its life, a well-oiled machine.

The high standards are evident, too, in the food and drink, beginning with the starters and ending with the mezcal.

Country pâté and chicken osso bucco

On a previous visit, I’d tried the Rescoldo veggies with roasted triple-crème brie, a decadent, buttery, smoky showcase of vegetables at their best (if not healthiest). This particular meal began with country pâté and sweet corn fritters. While the fritters were respectable (perfectly fried but a little light on the corn), they were upstaged by the richness of the pâté. Executive Chef Kevin Snell’s version is a chilled, dense roll of cured pork and pistachios, sliced and placed atop a cornbread crostini and garnished with a gerkin and mustard seed. Absent was the blackberry jam described on the menu, but it wasn’t missed.

For the main event, the Roasted Tomato Ravioli was a worthy vegetarian dish—fresh pasta pockets stuffed with tomato, garlic, and mascarpone, then tossed in house-made pesto and spinach—but the chicken stole the show.

Common wisdom holds that if a restaurant can nail its chicken dish, it can nail everything else. Snell has set an admirably high bar for himself with the chicken osso bucco—an impossibly tender, hearty, satisfying entrée that showcased the technical finesse of Snell’s staff. The hind of a chicken, procured from 413 Farm in Adair, is stripped from the bone, pounded out, then re-wrapped around the bone and given a sous vide bath. It’s then pan-seared and served on a bed of Carolina Gold rice and wilted spinach, covered in a rosemary tomato sauce, and garnished with micro greens and gremolata. An obligatory airline breast this is not.

The mezcal

The flight came at the end of my meal—an impulse order in place of dessert.

Amelia’s bar has two top shelves: one for whiskey (American, Irish, Scotch, Japanese) and one for mezcal and tequila. The latter takes center stage, commanding bar patrons’ lines of sight and dominating the rotating cocktail menu. Earlier, I’d had the Copa de Oro, a perfectly composed cocktail of reposado tequila, vermouth, grapefruit marmalade, bitters, and lime.

The bartender presented a wooden plank adorned with what looked like three miniature clay pots, each filled with the distilled essence of espadin, the common Oaxacan agave plant whose hearts are cooked in the ground to produce the exceedingly smoky spirit known as mezcal. I could see through the liquid a stamp
at the bottom of each pot: “Mexico.”

“Are you familiar with mezcal?” the bartender asked.

I’m a novice.

“Oh, perfect,” he said, and launched into an eloquent lesson on the roots of the spirit, elaborating on the quirks and flavors of each of the three in front of me.

Each pot was flanked by a wedge of orange, garnished with a maroon spice: sal de gusano, or “worm salt.” A classic garnish in Oaxaca, the salt is made from the ground guts of larvae that live in the agave plant. The worm powder is then mixed with chili powder and salt and used as an appropriately smoky companion to the mezcal—like the typical citrus-salt accompanying tequila shots and margaritas, but with worms.

The mezcal itself was a revelation. The notorious smokiness of the spirit was, in each of the three brands—Del Maguey Vida, Ilegal Joven, and Bozal Ensamble—muted and smooth, and each shot was extraordinarily easy to drink. I’m partial to tequila but have, in the past, dismissed mezcal as tequila’s trendy, abrasive cousin. No more.

The quality of Amelia’s can be at least partially attributed to the legacy of another Tulsa establishment. Both Snell and owner Amelia Eesley cut their teeth at Stonehorse, the impressive, reliable Utica Square staple lorded over by Tim Inman, a restaurateur who demands perfection from
his staff and has a low tolerance for mistakes.

If Amelia’s is the outcome of years under Inman, every aspiring chef and restaurateur in Tulsa should be required to work under him.

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